The first partnership between streaming and home video giants is a celebration of past and future in this stunning deluxe release
First things first: it feels like a minor miracle that this release of Roma has happened at all.
By releasing films by important new auteurs like Mati Diop and Sandi Tan and established legends like Martin Scorsese and Bong Joon-Ho (and, yeah, Michael Bay, too), Netflix has crafted a new image for itself as a dynamic distribution method for art-house and independent films that would once struggle to fill theater seats. The opposite side of the coin, naturally, is that Netflix’s rise as a distributor and its parallel scaling-back of its disc rental service has been heralded as a sign of the impending death of both physical media and the theatrical experience.
But, like many others, I’m ride-or-die for Blu-ray and DVD. To me, Criterion has often been Netflix’s antithesis, a carefully curated selection of films that prize the film-school-in-a-box approach to home video, dedicating themselves to consistently quality A/V presentation and a substantial amount of supplements. And that’s the approach I treasure most. Anything that preserves movies as living documents, results of intense collaboration between creatives that deserve rewatch and further discussion. Anything that keeps them from being just consumable objects that live and die by the whims of limited-engagement licensing agreements or the strength of my internet connection.
Roma, though, is the first of a surprising new partnership between the streaming giant and legendary Blu-ray label The Criterion Collection. What thrills me the most about this new agreement is the sense of stability and accessibility such a collaboration can offer. Netflix does provide an unprecedented amount of accessibility and funding for new independent work — but now there’s an outlet for these films to be championed untethered from the Internet, to be wholly owned again rather than be reliant on a monthly subscription. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for films like Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, and hopefully many more to come to be seen wholly as their director intended: without buffering, notifications, or anything else getting in the way.
So holding Roma in my hands with Criterion branding doesn’t feel like physical media is dying at all, nor does it seem like just a smart business decision by either company. It sincerely feels like a media staple has been wholly augmented and revitalized.
In the context of both its story and the production behind it, it feels more than fitting that Roma is the first film to result from this new collaborative partnership. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma exists at a nexus between past and future. Cuarón breathes new life into his childhood memories of 1970s Mexico City at the height of social and political crisis. His tools are the latest in digital filmmaking tech, as well as a veritable blank check from a company that nowadays feels like it can print money. There’s an unabated compassionate joy towards what wonders the world has in store — the thrill of racing through bustling city streets; the painful loss of a family member, be it physical or romantic; the fear and anxiety of being caught up in the waves of change; the intimacy in between climactic moments of change. Despite having lived them in some fashion once before, Cuarón feels like he’s exploring these moments as earnestly as his audience — and in so doing unearths how uniting those moments of chaotic change can be.
This potent awe remains vibrant throughout Roma, no matter if viewed on the big screen or the small; and with Criterion’s new release of Cuarón’s film, it feels like past, future, and all the media formats in between have come together in such a satisfactory, gorgeous package.
Criterion has sourced Roma from its original 4K digital master, and accompanies it with a 7.1 Dolby Atmos audio track.
Cuarón and team’s decision to shoot Roma in Arri65 6.5K Digital has reaped rewards for this Criterion disc — the visual quality on this disc is absolutely stunning, and with a level of consistency that remains solid throughout. Without film grain to act as a filter between subject and audience, Cuarón’s lens feels like a pane-less window into a bygone era. Cuarón’s meticulously-crafted black and white visual palette is just as meticulously preserved here, as well as the intricately-detailed production design by Eugenio Caballero.
Roma is the third Criterion addition to feature a 7.1 sound mix (next to re-mixes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Pan’s Labyrinth) and the only release to have a native Dolby Atmos sound mix. As illustrated in the supplements, as much care went into Roma’s sound design as its impressive visuals. The film’s soundscape is breathtaking, granting its audience perpetually heightened sensitivity to sound — the electric thrum of busy crowds, the terrifying roar of the ocean, the soothing scratch of broom bristles on tile. It’s a continuously immersive experience, one that will use any viewer’s sound system to its advantage.
In a rarity for the label, English, Spanish SDH, and French subtitles are included with the film, as well as a 2.0 Spanish-language descriptive audio track for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It’s exciting to see such a variety of languages offered for Criterion’s first collaboration with Netflix, and a step I hope is the first of many future releases in broadening the accessibility of the brand.
The one drawback, though, is that Roma’s English-language subtitles fail to caption the brief snippets of English-language dialogue that appear in one of the film’s sections, however brief they may be. This isn’t a new issue for Criterion; and given that English SDH subtitles are available on Roma’s Netflix stream and that Spanish SDH subtitles are included here, it feels like a strange oversight on Criterion’s part in the midst of this accessibility.
Roma is presented in a sleek, matte digipak, with its supplemental book of essays presented inside the folding disc clamshell.
- Booklet: A 108-page collection of essays by novelist Valeria Luiselli, historian Enrique Krauze, and author Aurelio Asiain; fold-out stills from the film; production design notes from design head Eugenio Caballero, accompanied by comparison shots of pre-production pre-visualizations and their equivalents in the final film.
- Road to Roma: Newly created for this release by Netflix, this feature-length documentary intercuts color behind-the-scenes footage of Roma’s production and interviews with Cuarón and his creative team. It’s truly staggering how intensive the film’s production truly was, creating a photorealistic reproduction of Mexico City through a combination of practical effects and well-accented CGI. Throughout, it’s fascinating to hear Cuarón’s philosophical and personal motivations for developing and shooting this film, especially in seeking out the deeper universality in bringing his childhood memories to life.
- Snapshots from the Set: A half-hour documentary featuring interviews with Roma’s cast and crew discussing their experiences in bringing Cuarón’s vision to the big screen. This documentary covers many of the same points as its longer BTS counterpart, but this supplement provides a welcome outside perspective from Cuarón’s creative counterparts.
- The Look of Roma: Alfonso Cuarón, post-production supervisor Carlos Morales, editor Adam Gough, and finishing artist Steven J. Scott discuss the many nuances of Roma’s cinematography. Initially intended to be shot on film by frequent collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, Roma was persuaded to shift to a 6.5K digital production. This supplement illustrates how this decision provided greater range in capturing and manipulating the images captured.
- The Sound of Roma: The film’s sound design team, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and Sergio Diaz–join Cuarón and editor Gough, in an examination of how Roma utilized the immersive and intense Dolby Atmos system. The visualizations of Roma’s soundscape are jaw-dropping to see–and further illustrates just how much control Cuarón and his team had in creating this film.
- Roma Brings Us Together: A look at Roma’s innovative theatrical tour through Mexico using the Cinemovil mobile cinema, which provided a way to screen Roma in areas of the country that couldn’t access Netflix or traditional theaters.
- Teaser and Theatrical Trailers
Roma is now available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection. The film, as well as its main supplement, Road to Roma, are also available to stream on Netflix.